December 17, 2018


       by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The holiest of all holidays are those
    Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
    The secret anniversaries of the heart,
    When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
    The sudden joys that out of darkness start
    As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
    Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
    White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
    White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;— a Fairy Tale
    Of some enchanted land we know not where,
    But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

December 5, 2018

Prompt: On a Walk

There are a lot more places online and in books to find writing prompts than there were when Poets Online first appeared in 1998. What we hoped to offer with the website was not just a prompt and a model poem, but the possibility to publish your response to the prompt online. Twenty years ago, putting your poem online did not really count as being "published" in the eyes of journals and other print publications. That has changed. First publishing a poem on many online journals (Poets Online included) counts as publication. And a number of new and established magazines and journals have become accepted as respected online publishers. (Narrative and Mudlark are examples.)

Diane Lockward offers a prompt and craft section in her monthly newsletter, and has published three craft books full of poetry prompts.

Poets & Writers Magazine  (PW) offers prompts.  Here's one:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk...
writes Frank O’Hara at the start of one of his lunch poems, “A Step Away From Them.”

So often, we miss out on the potential for inspiration from our daily routines, passing muses on morning commutes, lunch breaks, or evening strolls. PW suggested as a prompt that you go out into your neighborhood with no set destination, carrying a notepad, and invent background narratives, involve your senses, and record sounds and overheard phrases. For your poem, start with the time of day (“It’s eight in the morning,” or “It’s my lunch hour,” or “It’s midnight”) and take the reader through the streets with you.

And Leslie Schwartz wrote at PW  that “Mary Oliver used to walk in the woods with a notebook. Walking so inspired her that she kept pens in the trees so if an idea or thought came to her, she’d be able to stop and write it down. Like Mary Oliver, my inspiration almost always occurs while I am walking, not while I am sitting at a stodgy old desk in my messy office where the enemies of thought—phones and computers—lie in wait to distract me. It is while walking that most of my writing takes place. Something about being on the trail in the early morning with the hawks, the owls, and coyotes inspires me. "

Mary Oliver's prose poem "How I Go to the Woods" describes that walking.

This month, we ask you to literally go for a walk in your neighborhood, be it suburban or urban streets, or the nearby park or woods, in search of the figurative. Observe. Take notes. Treat it like a mini version of a walkabout or spirit walk, and perhaps you will find your spirit animal, guide or poetic inspiration.

The submission deadline for this prompt is December 31, 2018

POETS ONLINE offers you the opportunity to submit your poetic response to this current prompt. All submissions that address this prompt will be read and considered for posting on this site. Before your first submission, you should read some poems in our archive to get a sense of the types of responses people have had to previous prompts. We will only consider poems that are in response to this current writing prompt.

November 14, 2018

Can a robot write poetry?

Can a robot write poetry? That is the question posed in the headline of an article on The first reaction of most poets would probably be a quick No. 

The article is really about technology, but my own answer is that artificial intelligence can write poetry. One reason I believe that is because it is so hard at times for us to say that a poem is a Poem. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has had trouble with pathos, empathy and humor. It is great at learned tasks but creativity without human input has been more difficult to achieve.

Computer scientists (in this example, at Microsoft Research Asia) are working on designing AI that can be creative. You have probably seen or heard of examples of AI writing music or creating images. This new experiment attempts to have AI write poetry using images as a "writing prompt."

You look at an ocean wave, a painting, a foggy sunrise and you are inspired to write. Are all your resulting poems great?  

Up to this point, AI auto-generation of text has been getting better. Computers/robots/AI (choose your term) can write sports articles based on stats about a game and some rules about the descriptive language used in sports reporting. An algorithm to be poetic is a ot harder to create.

These researchers trained their AI with 8,000 images. When is "looked at" this bare winter trees country scene, 

it wrote this haiku-like (after all, it is Microsoft Asia) poem:

Sun is shining
The wind moves
naked trees
You dance

Is it a poem?  If one of the elementary students I work with in a workshop gave it to me, I would take it as a poem. I think I'd accept it as a short form poem from almost anyone, in fact.  

Is it a good poem? That is always harder to answer.

November 9, 2018

'The Practicing Poet' - Book Launch Event

If you are in the New Jersey metro area this weekend, I invite you to join me at a book launch reading for The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics on Sunday, November 11, 2018.  I am one of a number of poets who will be reading our poems that are in this new craft book.

The event will be at the West Caldwell Public Library (30 Clinton Rd., West Caldwell, NJ, 07006) at 2:00 PM.

Check out the event on Facebook.

Please join us to celebrate the publication - and get some poetic inspiration from the readers, including Jessica deKoninck, Deborah Gerrish, Tina Kelley, Adele Kenny, Jennifer Kosuda, Camille Norvaisas, Susanna Rich, Maxine Susman and the editor of the book, Diane Lockward.

A reception will follow the reading. Everyone is invited and books will be available for sale and signing.

November 7, 2018

Prompt: Translation

Translations are an important part of the poetry world.  Even translating the deceptively-simple haiku is difficult and worthy of argument. We use the phrase "lost in translation" more often in situations that don't have to do with going from one language to another.

You probably have tried one of the translation tools online, such as Google Translate, and very likely found the results to be so literal that something was lost in the process. This is more likely when translating poetry and literature and language that is more figurative.

The poem "On Translation" by Mónica de la Torre suggests that the translator's job is:

"Not to search for meaning, but to reedify a gesture, an intent.
As a translator, one grows attached to originals. Seldom are choices
   so purposeful."

Translations can be far-reaching, such as those done for politicians in places like the United Nations.

Our prompt this month deals with translation in poetry, but not necessarily of poetry.

One poem in Charles Baudelaire's collection Fleurs du mal  (a title that easily translate to Flowers of Evil) is "Harmonie du soir."  Just looking at the first stanza of that poem in several translations shows us the "problem" with translations.

Baudelaire wrote:

Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!

That stanza was translated by William Aggeler as:

The season is at hand when swaying on its stem
Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;
Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;
Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!

But in the translation by Roy Campbell, the stanza becomes:

Now comes the eve, when on its stem vibrates
Each flower, evaporating like a censer;
When sounds and scents in the dark air grow denser;
Drowsed swoon through which a mournful waltz pulsates!

Cyril Scott translated that stanza in this way:

The hour approacheth, when, as their stems incline,
The flowers evaporate like an incense urn,
And sounds and scents in the vesper breezes turn;
A melancholy waltz — and a drowsiness divine.

And the version translated by Lewis Piaget Shanks looks like this:

the hours approach when vibrant in the breeze,
a censer swoons to every swaying flower;
blown tunes and scents in turn enchant the bower;
languorous waltz of swirling fancies these!

Which translation is the right one, or the best one, or the closest to what Baudelaire would have wanted to say in English?

I can't ask you this month to do translations of poems since many of us don't have multiple languages to use. Let us think about other instances of translation in our lives.

In "Elegy in Translation" by Meg Day, she notes something we have all done - hearing a song lyric incorrectly:
"I saw Joni live and still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot." 

Even after hearing the song sung live - like hearing a poet at a reading - she didn't hear the correct Joni Mitchell lyric ("They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.") though she may have known that was the actual line.

In the haiku-like "Elvis in Translation" by Elaine Equi, she writes about one of the other kinds of translations we do in our lives.

"Sometimes the blue in Blue Hawaii
gets lost. But Elvis’s eyes speak
pure Esperanto."

My own thought is that we are all translators, whether it be in our everyday lives or in the ways that we take experiences and translate them into poems for others to read and experience.

For this month's prompt, I ask you to focus on the act of translation in any form - actually translating from one language to another, interpreting and translating a conversation in our own language or a gesture or a facial reaction, a baby's cry, a pet's attitude, the meaning of clouds moving towards you - the possibilities are wide open and many. Is that translation accurate, successful, or is something lost or mistranslated?

I offer up my own take on translation as this month's model poem.


My grandparents would speak Slovak
with my father, the aunts and the uncles
at the Sunday dinners at their home in Newark
when they didn’t want us to know.
In those days, the priests spoke Latin.
That was the mystery of the faith.
The boys on the #42 bus spoke Spanish
as I rode to my afterschool job
and when they laughed, looking in my direction.
Too fast for my B+  Spanish III  understanding
but enough that it hurt.
The waiter at the Chinese restaurant
changes my order into words
that I want to understand, 
but will  never know.
This is the poet’s job, 
and the job of the reader too.
We have been in training
all our lives.

by Kenneth Ronkowitz

Deadline for submissions is November 30, 2018

October 12, 2018

Are You a Practicing Poet?

Are you a practicing poet?  The new craft book, The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics has in its title a double meaning. As an adjective, "practicing" means actively working at a profession, such as medicine, law or poetry. But as an implied verb, all poets are practicing their craft, like an athlete always trying to improve.

The editor of this collection of craft essays, writing prompts, and sample poems is Diane Lockward. Diane fits both definitions.

As a practicing poet, her collections of poetry include, most recently, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, as well as What Feeds Us  and Eve’s Red Dress.

As a teacher and poet, Diane knows the need for continuous practice in the craft of poetry. Her blog and newsletter includes many prompts and craft lessons.

The Practicing Poet is her third craft book. It was preceded by The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop and a sequel, The Crafty Poet II.

In this new book, there are ten sections with each devoted to a poetic concept, such as "Discovering New Material," "Working with Sentences and Line Breaks," "Crafting Surprise," and "Transforming Your Poems." The final section, "Publishing Your Book," covers manuscript organization, book promotion, and how to present a good public reading.

The book includes thirty brief craft essays, each followed by a model poem, analysis of the poem's craft, and then a prompt based on the poem.

Full disclosure: I have known Diane for many years, going back to when both of us were high school English teachers and poets who were practicing. I also have sample poems in The Crafty Poet and The Practicing Poet.

Her craft books are suitable as a classroom text, a guidebook in a workshop, or an at-home tutorial for the practicing poet who is working independently.

Each section includes 3 craft tips from such poets as Nicole Cooley, Patrick Donnelly, Barbara Hamby, Molly Peacock, Diane Seuss, Maggie Smith, and Lawrence Raab.

Plus, each section also includes 3 model poems contributed by such poets as Thomas Lux, Joseph Bathanti, Camille Dungy, James Galvin, and Vievee Francis. These 30 model poems each have an analysis of its poetic techniques, and a prompt based on the poem.

There are also 60 sample poems suggest the possibilities in the prompts, 10 bonus prompts, and 10 poets each compiled a list of their best poetry wisdom. The lists come from Patricia Smith, Lee Upton, George Bilgere, David Kirby, Robert Wrigley, Dorianne Laux, Jan Beatty, Ellen Bass, Alberto Rios, and Oliver de la Paz.

The book represents three years of work from Diane in compiling the material in this book and the result shows her care.


October 5, 2018

Prompt: Acquainted with the Night

I think most people would consider an "acquaintance" to be a person we know, but not someone we would describe as close friend. In this time of social media "friends," we probably have many more acquaintances than we have true friends.

When I heard Garrison Keillor read Robert Frost's “Acquainted with the Night,” I thought about the word and wondered if Frost's relationship with the night was like that - known, but not known very well.

A dictionary will tell you I am wrong because "acquainted" means having personal knowledge of something by way of study and experiences. A lawyer is "acquainted with law" and that (hopefully) means he is informed about it through studying it and dealing with it in real situations.

This made me reread Frost's poem looking for the deeper relationship the speaker has with the night from studying and experiencing it. This is not some lightweight relationship with the night.  

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

When I studied this poem in college, it was presented the poet's thoughts on depression. Experiencing depression was like walking through the night. Whether the person walks in a city or beyond it to where there is no light, he is alone.

That interpretation seems less certain to me now. I feel that the poem is as much about experiencing the literal night and darkness as it is about any symbolic meanings we attach to the night.

The night does not "call me back or "say good-by" and the night - and my interpretation - is "neither wrong nor right."

For our October writing prompt, write a poem about something (not someone) that you are acquainted with. That means you know it quite well - both by study of some kind and by personal experiences.

Follow Frost's titling and use "acquainted with" as part of your title.

You also might want to follow Frost's other formal elements. His poem is strict iambic pentameter. It has 14 lines like a sonnet. It has a terza rima rhyme scheme (aba bcb cdc dad aa). That rather complex "third rhyme" is credited to Dante Alighieri from his The Divine Comedy. Be warned: terza rima is easier in Italian because so many Italian words have vowel endings.


September 19, 2018

Publish, Don't Perish

The question that poets probably get asked the most in workshops is how to get published. There are thousands of articles, hundreds of books and an endless amount of advice that is shared about how to get published.

I'm sure there is good information in all those places, but I would say the best answer is that you have to write good poems and you have to send them out regularly.

No one is going to come up to you at a reading or at your writing desk and ask for a poem or manuscript for them to publish. That is the one in a million kind of story I associate with starlets being spotted by a director at a soda fountain on Hollywood Blvd. in the 1930s.

We can offer a few places to look for places to publish.

How about this appealing headline: "1,290+ Literary Magazines Ready to Publish Your Work?"  That was the tagline for the Literary Magazines database at Poets and Writers magazine.  You can use it to research publications before submitting your work, and then use it for deadlines for contest and submissions.

It has a wide variety of publications, from the well known to the never-heard-of: That Literary Review is interested in "creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry of the mysterious and the wonderful." New Letters seeks "creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry regardless of subject, style, or genre." Your Impossible Voice publishes "brash and velvety new work," including creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.

Poetry Mountain also has a list of literary magazines, as does

Again, the secret is sending out your work. Prepare for rejections. A baseball player only has to hit once out of three at bats to have an excellent .333 batting average. For poets, one acceptance for ten submissions would make you an all-star. But you have to take some swings.


September 11, 2018

Author Realia

There is something about the homes, writing desks and objects from writers' lives that people find fascinating.

The New York Public Library's Berg Collection is an archive containing of manuscripts and archival materials. The NYPL labels as "realia" non-paper items.

They have Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk (with a lock of her hair inside) Jack Kerouac's harmonicas, boots, lighter and a card upon which he wrote 'blood' in his own blood. Interesting, but what would we hope to take from these objects or from typewriters belonging to S. J. Perelman and Paul Metcalf, Mark Twain’s pen and wire-rimmed glasses, Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly drawings?

As a poet, what would you take away from viewing the death masks of the poets James Merrill and E. E. Cummings? They might inspire you to write about the poets, I suppose.

On March 28, 1941, Virginia Woolf took her final walk, into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex with her her trusty cane in hand and you can see that cane with her things in the short New Yorker video below.

Does being in the presence of a writer's "realia" impart some creative or other spirit to the viewer? I know that I have felt something when I have visited the homes and even the graves of writers. I haven't decided on what that something might be.

There are some writing prompts to be found in these homes and in the objects there. I know I felt it when I walked through Walt Whitman's home and visited his grave.

Have you ever experienced this yourself? Share that experience in a comment to this post.

September 1, 2018

Prompt: Poetry in School

Most of us were introduced to poetry in school. As a teacher, I hope it was a kind introduction, but there are many people whose introduction to poetry in school seems to have been unpleasant.

Billy Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry" is one that is often used to make a point about poetry in the classroom. The teacher asks the students to "take a poem / and hold it up to the light / like a color slide / or press an ear against its hive." Though the teacher wants the students to simply enjoy the poem - "to waterski / across the surface of a poem / waving at the author's name on the shore" - the students have been trained in school about how to read a poem, so they want to "tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it. / They begin beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means."

You may have more pleasant memories of your introduction to poetry or a good classroom encounter with poetry in a classroom. I can recall how Mrs. Cavico read and spoke about Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" with such love and appreciation - and how she recognized that I "got it" while most of the class looked out the window at kids in gym class.

Having met her and heard her read and talk about writing, I imagine poet Naomi Shihab Nye would be a great teacher to have for poetry. In one of her poems, "The Young Poets of Winnipeg,"
scurried around a classroom papered with poems.
Even the ceiling, pink and orange quilts of phrase…
they introduced one another, perched on a tiny stage
to read their work, blessed their teacher who
encouraged them to stretch, wouldn’t let their parents
attend the reading because parents might criticize

These very confident young poets had not been taught to tie down a poem or beat it.

They knew their poems
were glorious, that second-graders could write better

than third or fourth, because of what happened
on down the road, the measuring sticks
that came out of nowhere, poking and channeling
the view

For our September, back-to-school prompt, write a poem about poetry in school. I'm guessing we have positive and negative tales to tell, from our own experiences as students and teachers or from imagined classrooms.

Submission guidelines.        Submission deadline September 30, 2018


August 22, 2018


Not everyone has the opportunity to attend poetry readings in their local area, but thankfully there are many available online. One source I was browsing and listening to today is the which has almost 3000 audio files.

I was just browsing and clicking and listening - the audio equivalent of doing that through an anthology.

I will admit to clicking on poems just because a title caught my attention - like 
—how her loose curls float 
above each silver fish as she leans in 
to pluck its eyes— 

or listening to "How to Love Bats" by Judith Beveridge:

open your mouth, out will fly names
like Pipistrelle, Desmodus, Tadarida. Then,
listen for a frequency
lower than the seep of water, higher
than an ice planet hibernating
beyond a glacier of Time.

As with browsing a poetry anthology or journal or an open reading, you will encounter poets you have never read before, which is always a good thing. 

I also subscribe/listen to the Poetry Foundation's podcast in which the editors talk to poets published in Poetry magazine and critics to discuss in more detail the issue. Conversations about poems are also something you might get at a reading. For example, I listened to a discussion about Terrance Hayes’s poem “How to Draw a Perfect Circle” and then promptly sat down to write a how-to poem of my own.

Some people say clicking these links leads you into a rabbit hole of more and more clicks. That is sometimes true for me. After listening to the Haye's podcast, I did click deeper into the prose selections on the site and read an essay "Another Life - Terrance Hayes and the poetics of the un-thought" by Joshua Bennett Hayes’s latest collection, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin. It is a collection from the 200 days between President Trump’s election and the early summer of 2017. He wrote 70 sonnets which come from that time but are more about what led up to Trump's election.

After that though, I needed to return to some poetry to cleanse my poetry palate - perhaps William Blake's "The Ecchoing Green."  After too much reality, Blake sounds so happy that we might view him as naive. That would be a mistake.

...laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk, 
They laugh at our play, 
And soon they all say.
‘Such, such were the joys. 
When we all girls & boys, 
In our youth-time were seen, 
On the Ecchoing Green...’

August 3, 2018

Prompt: Science and Love

We don't normally associate love with science. Long ago, it was thought that love was centered in the heart, and that misconception still holds a place in our culture - just take a look around you when Valentine's day approaches. Later, we found that the emotions of love were centered in the brain and involved chemical reactions in our bodies.

In Sara Eliza Johnson's poem, "Combustion", we begin with the science of the body that we can enumerate.

If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—

But numbers can't explain love.

When I read articles about scientists studying love, it always seems so cold and dry. For example, when researchers measured hormone levels in young people who reported recently falling in love, they found "that the lovers had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than people who hadn't lately been bitten by the love bug. They also found that the men who were in love had less testosterone than their single counterparts, and the women in love had more. The researchers speculated that falling in love may reduce some of the differences between the sexes, making men softer and women more aggressive."

That last piece of scientific conjecture is the most interesting: falling in love makes us more like each other.

Johnson's poem moves from the facts of the body to the body itself.

When our skin touches
our atoms touch, their shadows
merging into a shadow galaxy.

I don't think you need to read about the neuroscience of love in order to understand that falling in love and being in love does things to our brain and our bodies.  The challenge of this month's prompt is to use some science as a way to understand an aspect of love in a new way.

Submission deadline: August 31, 2018 
As always, POETS ONLINE offers you the opportunity to submit your poetic response to this current prompt. All submissions that address this prompt will be read and considered for posting on our main site. Before your first submission, you should read some poems in our archive to get a sense of the types of responses people have had to previous prompts. Remember, we will only consider publishing poems that are in response to the current writing prompt.

July 26, 2018

Restoring the Walt Whitman Neighborhood in New Jersey

Whitman's home is second from the left on the busy street now-named Martin Luther King Blvd.

I was glad to see a recent article about Walt Whitman's home (a National Historic Landmark) in Camden, New Jersey. It is still there, but the home and the surrounding neighborhood have needed some work.  A $895,730 contract for design work was awarded this month by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which owns the structures, to upgrade this historical, literary, and architectural gem.

The Walt Whitman Association is an all-volunteer association that goes back to friends and fans who knew and supported Whitman and his work during his lifetime. The organization has encouraged Whitman studies and promoting the house for the past hundred years. The association diligently lobbied for the “Whitman’s neighborhood” project.

The new plans call for the exteriors of the three houses, including the former home of noted architect Stephen Decatur Button at #332, to be restored to their original appearance. The three interiors are to be re-purposed as exhibit areas and other facilities for visitor and educational programs, as well as association and state park offices.

Whitman bought the house in 1884 and lived there until his death in 1892.

Whitman's surprisingly grand tomb is also in Camden.

The Mickle Street home and its neighbors - other adjoining homes have since been demolished. Image Library of Congress, 1890

July 13, 2018

More People Are Reading Poetry

I like finding surveys that say that more people are reading poetry. 28 million American adults read poetry this year according to a survey of arts participation conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Census Bureau. That is the highest percentage of poetry readership in more than 15 years.

“We’ve never seen an increase in poetry reading. If anything there had been a decline — a pretty sharp decline — since about 2002 at least,” said Sunil Iyengar, NEA director of research and analysis."

The full arts participation report won’t be released until later this year, but they thought the results were too significant not to share early.

Young adults and certain racial ethnic groups account for a large portion of the increase. U.S. poetry readers aged 18 to 24 more than doubled, jumping from 8 percent in 2012 to 17 percent in 2017. Among people of color, African Americans and Asian Americans are reading poetry at the highest rates — which more than doubled in the last five years — up 15 and 12 percent, respectively.

Other notable increased readership groups include women, rural Americans and those with only some college education.

This kind of data is of interest to the NEA’s mission of increasing participation in the arts, and they have found in other studies how reading tends to be a portal to other types of participation and other types of engagement, in the arts and outside the arts.

July 7, 2018

Prompt: Summer Haiku

Oiran in Summer Kimono - Attributed to Hosoda Eishi (Japan, 1756-1829) - via Wikimedia
While we are on vacation this month, we are offering a different prompt and submission option. Here we are going to give you a brief summer haiku prompt and ask that if you write a poem to the prompt that you post it below as a comment. All comments on this blog require approval, so there will still be some gentle screening of submissions, but let's assume that everyone can follow the simple rules, will post and will be approved.

We have written here in the past about haiku more than a dozen times, and had specific posts and prompts about spring, autumn and winter haiku. Somehow, summer was overlooked. This month we remedy that.

The haiku form doesn't get the respect it deserves. It seems so simple that it is often used with children as a first formal poetry assignment. But good haiku is not that easy to write.

People notice that many famous haiku poems don't seem to follow the rules we usually hear for haiku verse: three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. That is both because the classic Chinese and Japanese poets of haiku were not working with syllables and because in translation to English the syllabication is usually ignored.

We will ask you to follow that 5-7-5 in your poems, but perhaps more importantly are some of the other "rules" for haiku.

Most classic haiku follow the culture and influence of Buddhism in the way that the poems emphasize a single moment.

Most haiku focus on something in nature.

In the traditional form, they contain either a direct or indirect reference to a season that turns the reader's attention to the passage of time. They often do this by using a seasonal word rather than naming the season. That seasonal word is called kigo (KEY-GO). In the examples below, the cricket and firefly suggest summer.

Here are a few examples:

The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The cricket.
      ~  ISSA

This warm river
I walk across it
holding my sandals
      ~  BUSON

This hot summer night.
The dream and real
are same things.

Even a woodpecker
wouldn’t crack the tea hut.
in the summer grove.

Their own fires
are on the trees
fireflies around the house with flowers.
     ~  BASHO

Post your own summer haiku as a comment to this post.

Firefly by  Shoen Uemura - via Wikimedia

July 6, 2018

When Poets Go On Vacation

POETS ONLINE is taking the month of July off for summer vacation. No new writing prompt this month. Even our web server seems to be vacationing lately, so we will try to rest everyone for a few weeks and hopefully return in August refreshed.

Tomorrow, we will post a kind of prompt alternative that doesn't require any coding on our part.

We will also try to stay offline, but the laptop will be there with us, and we will check in on the blog and our Facebook pages during the month.

June 26, 2018

Donald Hall

Donald Hall, a former poet laureate of the United States, died on June 23, 2018. He was 89 and had lived much of his life at the old farm called Eagle Pond, his family’s ancestral homestead, in Wilmot, New hampshire.

He had been diagnosed with cancer in 1989 and beat his own odds of survival.

He began writing at age 12, and over his career wrote more than 40 books, with half of them being poetry.

He wrote often about apples, ox carts and the ordinary folk of his rural New England, along with using his childhood, baseball, and his time with and the death of his second wife, poet Jane Kenyon.

Donald & Jane
I heard him read his poetry along with Jane at one of the Dodge Poetry Festivals at Waterloo Village in New Jersey. They read together in the small church and talked about their shared life in poetry.

Hall was married to Jane Kenyon for 23 years. She died in 1995. He wrote about her and their marriage in the collections Without (1998) and The Painted Bed (2002).

I recorded Donald Hall when he read and talked about two of his poems. "Old Roses"
& "Weeds and Peonies", at a teachers' conference in Boston (2009) along with Robert Bly.

After Jane's passing, Hall with his wild hair and beard might have been taken on the streets to be a homeless man or an eccentric professor. But he was still the poet, changed by his life experiences, but still believing that "Poetry offers works of art that are beautiful, like paintings, but there are also works of art that embody emotion and that are kind of school for feeling."


To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

      Donald Hall


June 16, 2018

Stopping by Woods on a June Morning

It was a warm June morning in 1922 in Shaftsbury, Vermont when Robert Frost sat down at his dining room table and wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." It became one of his most famous poems.

The house was surrounded by seven acres of land, old stone walls, a barn and some heirloom apple trees that would all figure into Frost's poems.

"I have moved a good part of the way to a stone cottage on a hill at South Shaftsbury in southern Vermont on the New York side near the historic town of Bennington where if I have any money left after repairing the roof in the spring I mean to plant a new Garden of Eden with a thousand apple trees of some unforbidden variety." 
Frost's letter to a friend on Oct. 23, 1920 - from Robert Frost A Life

Frost's Dutch Colonial stone house was built in 1769. After leaving his teaching post at Amherst College, he moved his family there with plans to be an apple farmer - a profession that he found better suited to writing.

It must have worked as the family lived there for 9 years, and he won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes during that time.

I think it is interesting that it was a June day and not a snowy, winter night, when Frost sat down to write "Whose woods these are I think I know." He was probably recalling a ride through those snowy woods. Maybe the apple blossoms were falling like snow as he walked his property. He said that the poem came to him like a "hallucination."

His poem has been analyzed (and over-analyzed) for almost 100 years. I still recall a high school English teacher telling us "it's really about suicide and death." I doubted that interpretation then, and I still question its validity. But that final repeated line, "And miles to go before I sleep" may be one of the best-known lines in poetry for the average American.

On this early June day, perhaps you should sit down under some blossoms and think about what happened to you this past winter and write that poem.

Frost's little house is now a museum. He gave the house to his son and moved to a farm across the road. His son struggled with depression and took his own life at the house in 1940. The house stayed in the family and later was privately owned, but opened as a museum in 2002, and Bennington College acquired the house from the nonprofit Friends of Robert Frost in 2017.

June 9, 2018

Prompt: The Dance

I am, like Emily Dickinson, not a dancer. We certainly are not like the trained ballet dancers in the Impressionist paintings of Degas or Matisse's dancers.

As Emily wrote:

I cannot dance upon my Toes
No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe—
Or lay a Prima, mad...

Perhaps, Emily and I are more like the dancer in "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams. who waits until his household is asleep

and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself

I can't quite imagine Emily dancing naked around her room, though I hope she did sometimes, but even non-dancers sometimes get lost in "the dance."

Was Williams thinking about the Ballets Russes, an avante-garde dance company of the time and its principal dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky? Nijinsky did not follow traditional ballet technique and often danced half-naked. In his Faun costume for the dance he created to Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune he was known to make gestures of orgasm to a scarf and it was a scandal on several continents.

The poem is, for me, a simple dance of freedom and joy that one can have in the privacy of one's own place. (That doesn't mean the poem hasn't been interpreted quite differently by others - check out this post.)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Dance at Bougival
But "the dance" does not even have to be about dancing.

We use the verb dance to mean "to leap or skip in excitement or joy." We sometimes describe animals or even objects as dancing, as with the mating dances of birds or a toy sailboats dancing on the water.

Figuratively, when we put off or don't address something directly, it might be said that we  "dance around an issue." To use another dance term, it might be said that in that situation we "sidestep" an issue.

The noun "dance" is an important part of many rituals and ceremonies from proms to weddings.

The American NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is called "The Big Dance."

The Dance of the Planets is a phrase used sometimes in this late spring season when Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury all appear to be right next to each other in the evening sky. Over a period of time, they seem to rotate and change positions, like dancers, with each other.

In "The Dance by Wendell Berry, I think the poet combines the literal and figurative dances.

He begins with the literal:

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

but then turns figuratively to asking

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

Our writing prompt this month is simply "the dance" in any of its literal or figurative or verb or noun forms.

New to our site? Check our submission guidelines.

Submission Deadline: June 30, 2018